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Court Rules on Dispute about Search Terms and Organization of Produced Documents: eDiscovery Case Law

In Lutzeier v. Citigroup Inc., 4:14-cv-00183-RLW (E.D. Mo. Feb. 2, 2015), Missouri District Judge Ronnie I. White ruled on two motions to compel discovery by the plaintiff, addressing (among other things) disagreement on search terms to be used by the defendant and lack of organization and labeling of the defendant’s production to date.

Case Summary

In this employment termination dispute, the plaintiff filed a motion to compel defendant’s discovery in several areas, including asking the Court to order the defendants to add five categories of search terms, as follows:

(1) “Executive training” and/or “leadership development training program”;

(2) “PEP” and/or “program expenditure proposal” and/or “internal control”,

(3) “OCC,” “office of comptroller of currency,” “FRB,” “federal reserve board,” and/or “consent order”;

(4) “Insufficient assurance”; and

(5) “Whistleblower,” “retaliate,” “retaliation,” “SOX,” “Sarbanes Oxley,” and/or “Dodd Frank.”

The defendants claimed that the new categories of search terms were “so common and generic that they will return a significant volume of irrelevant documents that it is not sufficient to justify the additional burden”, maintaining that using the search protocol for “Fred,” “Lutzeier,” “LOIS,” “COSMOS,” and “Champney” would produce all of the relevant documents. The defendants also claimed that adding these additional search terms would produce an additional 555,909 documents and, therefore, the burden “greatly outweighs the likelihood that these searches will yield additional documents not already captured by Defendants’ search protocol.”

In the plaintiff’s second motion to compel, he complained that the defendants had produced in excess of 46,217 documents without providing any indication as to which documents are responsive to which of Plaintiff’s 58 requests for production. The defendants acknowledged that they did not organize and label their production, but argued that the ESI agreement dictates the method of production and further claimed that, even if Rule 34(b)(2)(E) controls, they had complied with its requirements as the document production was fully searchable, “which negates any need to organize the production”.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge White agreed that “the majority of the search terms suggested by Plaintiff are too generic and are likely to produce a large number of documents that are irrelevant to this case” and found that “the current search criteria adequately ensures that the proper documents that are relevant to Plaintiff’s causes of action are produced”. As a result, he denied the plaintiff’s request to additional search criteria, except for the phrase “consent order” because “there appears to be some confusion as to whether other consent orders exist that are relevant to this case”.

As for organization of the production, Judge White ruled that the method of the defendants’ production “complies with both the ESI agreement and with Rule 34″. Both parties relied on Venture Corp. Ltd. v. Barrett in their arguments, and Judge White held that the defendants “have complied with the requirements outlined there”, finding “that Defendants’ production is in a reasonably usable form or forms and/or the production is searchable, sortable and paired with relevant metadata.”

So, what do you think? What information should courts require to be able to rule on the relevance of search terms? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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